Setting a Scene

scenes photo

I discovered the other day that I set some of my scenes in the same places in my current novel. My characters seem to eat a lot. Well, that’s not too bad, is it? I mean, we all eat several times a day, right?

Except this means I have several scenes set in the dining hall. Two or three scattered through the novel might be ok, four, five, six or seven? Um.

The thing is, it not only gets repetitive, it gets boring and samey for the reader. They feel like they’ve already read this scene, so I took my characters out of the dining hall and into a market place instead. With a few tweaks and extra description added, the scene improved vastly. I have a scene set in the buttery (not the place for churning butter:

store photo

, a place where the ‘butts’ of ale were stored), one in a barn and another in a hayloft. I even have one (okay, two) in a graveyard.

The trick is in thinking about your character’s daily lives and where they have to go. Anywhere can make an interesting scene – front doorstep of a house, library, beach, bathroom, skilift, lighthouse – and if it’s somewhere the main character shouldn’t be, so much the better!

Some scenes need to take place in an enclosed space; this builds tension between the characters because they can’t easily get away from each other.

Other scenes are better suited to wider spaces. This can build pace and tension. Have the scene in the opposite setting your characters need. So, for example, if you have your hero desperately trying to find your heroine and they need to be together – then choose a wide open setting. They need to be together, and if they are far apart it creates tension.

If your heroine needs to escape a killer, have the scene in a tight space, thus building tension.

If a couple are have a fullblown argument, confine them to a

ski lift photo

and see what happens.



Finding the Start to your Story

In the beginning

Finding the beginning to a story can be like trying to find anything in a large handbag (purse, for readers in the US:D). Nigh on impossible. I have a large, pink leather bag which I love, but can never find anything in, and I can often be found at the checkout in shops looking utterly panicked as I frantically search for my wallet.

I am just as hopeless at finding the beginning of my stories. With my current novel I began at what I thought was the inciting incident, only to discover that I was writing lots of flashbacks – and even one flashback within a flashback. At that point I rested my hands from the keys and wondered if I had started in the right place.

No, according to my wonderful critiquers who thought a flashback within a flashback was, well, too much.

Now, I quite liked the idea of keeping the flashback within the flashback, and persisted stubbornly until I realised that I had started the novel half way through and I needed to find the beginning.

beginning photo

So I opened a new page and began at where I thought the new beginning was. Lo and behold, it wasn’t there. I was wrong. Again. I had to travel further back in time.

time travel  photo

In the last few days I have finally realised where this novel begins, and I feel good about this beginning. Know why? It starts at the beginning!

It might sound obvious to start at the beginning but it’s not always easy to know where that is. You might think you have your inciting incident. However, is that inciting incident you’re writing the original one, or one in a long stream of incidents incited by an action?

The key is not to over-think it. A blank page can stare back at you, intimidating in its purity, demanding perfect prose and complex characters. You want that first sentence to be the best you have written so far, you want it to set you on a path to the perfect novel. Except, we all know that most of the time that first sentence will be re-written at least a thousand times, erased a few hundred times and then, if you’re like me, that first sentence won’t actually turn out to be the first sentence after all.

If you don’t know where your beginning is, don’t worry. Instead, think about what’s going through your head. A scene? A fragment of dialogue? Do you have a picture that needs describing? Start there, and see where it leads. Who cares if it’s not the beginning? Very often it’s not until we get to the end that we know how the novel must begin anyway.

Interview Your Characters? Why?


I know people interview their characters to find out details about them, and in many ways these interviews can provide information that adds flavour to the character, but, in my humble opinion, they do not add depth. This post takes a look at that.

So what kind of questions do they recommend you ask?


Well, these:

What is your character’s name? Does the character have a nickname?

What is your characters hair color? Eye color?


Where does your character go when he’s angry?

angry photo

What is her biggest fear? Who has she told this to? Who would she never tell this to? Why?

Does she have a secret?


What do you consider your greatest achievement?

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

What is your current state of mind?

What is your favorite occupation?

What is your most treasured possession?

What or who is the greatest love of your life?

love  photo

What is your favorite journey?

What is your most marked characteristic?

When and where were you the happiest?

What is it that you most dislike?

What is your greatest fear?

What is your greatest extravagance?

Which living person do you most despise?


These sorts of questions are all fascinating and provide great details, but do they show real character?

I’m not so sure.

In an interview we like to present the best facets of ourselves possible, and we even exaggerate our good points if we think it will produce the result we want. What prevents our characters from doing exactly the same?

We could ask our character these questions and think we know them, then when we start to write we discover that, actually, we still know very little about them.

If you were asked all these questions can you say you would answer each one truthfully? Would your character?

If you had a character who was a compulsive liar, these questions would be no good at all. If you had a character whose opinion of themselves was vastly different to that of other characters, how does interviewing them help? It may reveal their opinion of themselves, but will it also reveal what they think deep down?

These questions might reveal what the character thinks they might do in certain situations, or what the character thinks they know, but how many of us know what we would do in any given situation until we are in that situation?

Most of these questions seem to be aimed at discovering the person/character rather than developing the character.

It might be a good idea to start with such a questionnaire to discover a character, but how do we then develop them? Or find out how their answers to these questions affect them in ‘life’?

There is only one way.

Put them in situations where they are forced to make a decision, for good or bad. Put them in situations that will test their courage, test their emotional responses, test their fears.

Even if these situations and scenes are not used in the final draft, you have learned something about your character you didn’t know before. They have new depth.


What do you think? Have character interviews helped you, and in what way?



Character Madness Monday

When asked by Jena Baxter to join in her Character Madness Monday blog I jumped at the chance. This is a fun blog where her characters interview one of your own. What results can be a mix of mayhem and hilarity, as I found out when I sent Katie Giordano to be interviewed.


Katie is the female main character of a short story I wrote to be included in The Bowman’s Inn. If you lurve romance then this anthology is for you; it will be published in April – so very soon!

When she was sixteen, Katie Giordano left home and followed who she thought was the man of her dreams all the way to New York. Years later, having realized he is a loser, she feels trapped until a letter arrives from a lawyer in her home town with the news that she has inherited an ice cream parlor, along with the apartment above. After a long Greyhound bus ride, with nothing to show except a suitcase of clothes, she arrives in Anteros to discover the parlor has been usurped and the apartment devoid of all furniture.

Here is an extract to whet your appetite:

Mac shrugged. “They owe me a favor.”
“Hnh.” She cocked her head to one side. “You’re still here, so what do you owe me?”
He grinned. “Nothing.”
“Then why are you still here?”
“To make sure you owe me. Then I get free ice cream.”
“As long as you realize that’s all you’ll be getting.” Katie tugged on the door handle to go upstairs and, after a thought, held it open for Mac to go through first.
He raised an eyebrow. “You being polite?”
“Well, you know, roaches down here, might be one up there, too.”
“Ah. Don doesn’t live here, you know.”
“A man doesn’t have to live somewhere to leave his mark. Territorial beasts.”
He snorted with laughter. “And by letting me go first, you’re ceding the territory to me.” He paused in front of her, eyes crinkling at the corners. “I find that very interesting.”
His closeness kindled images of being pushed up against the wall and being thoroughly and slowly kissed. Her mouth dried. She swatted at him. “Go on. You’ll get the cobwebs first. I hate spiders.”
He climbed the wooden stairs. The magenta runner needed replacing. What else needed updating? Regardless, she had a home. What if it was full of her things? She shivered, and set off behind Mac, trying not to stare at his tight backside.
He whirled and threw something at her.

She screamed.


That’s all for now, please visit Jena’s excellent Blog, and if you liked the snippet, I hope you’ll buy the anthology, it’s a good, fun, romantic read.

For the Love of Peace


I am sitting at my laptop and can hear nothing but the gentle whirr of the fans and birds singing outside. The sun is shining on my shoulders as I sit in front of the window and it looks like spring, feels like spring.

This is one of life’s simple and precious moments.

Especially after nothing but endless grey skies the last few weeks. My youngest has been ill with fever and vomiting but is now fast asleep, curled up in a chair and his fever seems to have abated. The house is clean (relatively speaking) and I have a few moments where I could do anything I want for me. Just me. Nobody demanding attention, no food needs cooking right now and the washing is on. So, what shall I do?

I have no idea! I could write some more of my novel, but don’t really feel like it. I could critique something on Scribophile, but don’t really feel like it. I could work on my copy-editing course, but don’t really feel like it. All I feel like doing is sitting in the sunshine, listening to the birds and enjoying this moment of peace. They do not come often.

And tomorrow it will snow.


This isn’t the view from my window (unfortunately, wouldn’t that be nice), it’s a picture taken on the Ofen Pass in Switzerland. Maybe you can find a little peace looking at it:)